As I settled down in my seat on an international flight, I was handed out instant advice in chaste Punjabi by a fellow passenger on how to fasten the seat belt. I smiled at him politely, while he continued with his chatter, "People don't know a lot of things about flying, I know them because I have travelled dozens of times."
Soon after the flight was airborne, the air hostesses meticulously started their job of putting passengers to comfort. "Veg or non-veg, sir?" she asked the elderly Sikh gentleman with a flowing beard, clad in a crumpled two-piece suit, with collar buttons of the shirt open.
He quickly turned to me and said in Punjabi, "What is she saying? If she is asking me for roti (food), then please tell her that I don't want it." I dutifully passed on the information and the lady flitted on to the next seat.
"Main gharon parshade te wah-wah sara kadah parshad kha ke chaliya si, hun sirf cha peewanga. Roti Amrika ja ke khawanga, meri gharwali ne bana ke rakhi hoegi. Ohnu pata hai main aa riha haan" (When I started from home, I had rotis and a lot of parshad. Now I will have only tea. My next meal would be in the US, cooked by my wife, who knows I'm coming).
Then a funny thing happened. A lady went to the toilet, which was a few seats away from ours, and when inside, failed to slide the latch properly. As a result, the light indicator outside showed the toilet to be unoccupied. My co-passenger got up instantly, walked to the toilet and opened its door to the shrieks of the occupant inside. Unfazed by the commotion he had caused, and in the midst of the occupants' frantic efforts to shut the door, he told her how to secure the latch properly. Having done his job, he turned back, mirthfully holding on to his sides and was ushered to his seat by the air hostess. In between his laughter, he kept saying that these people didn't know so many things about a flight, which he knew because he had travelled dozens of times.
The lady emerged from the toilet, with embers for eyes, and confronted her offender. The verbal exchange in English and Punjabi was gibberish to both. It took the expertise of two airhostesses to persuade the lady to go back to her seat, which she did indignantly.
I asked the air hostess to get the gentleman his cup of tea which, I thought, he needed by now.
He kept up with his monologue in Punjabi. Describing his family in India and the US and how he had migrated five decades ago and the hardships he faced in finding work, adjusting to a new place, understanding new people and accepting different food, he came out with an interesting statement to say with a wink, "I enjoy that bread which children order for home delivery."
"Pizza?" I suggested helpfully.
"Yes! Yes! Pizza. It is a good thing, but you must drink Coke with it. It actually helps to digest it, badi wadiya cheez hai" (A good thing to have). He had his tea and dozed off, giving me some time to ponder over the amazing tenacity of these rustic, uneducated people who migrated to foreign lands decades ago and were able to carve out a place for themselves by adapting to alien conditions. Even today, some of them, like the gentleman next to me, were unable to communicate in a foreign language and had yet lived their life abroad, unhindered and undeterred because of an attitude best described as "Carry on Jatta". Move over makki di roti, saag and lassi, you have stiff competition from pizzas, Salsa and Coke.
"Things go better with Coca-Cola," went an ad. Surely they will, if the Jatt is to carry on like this.